Can I recover damages if I wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time of my car crash?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for those aged 1 – 54. Over half of those deaths are due to vehicle occupants not wearing seat belts. These life-saving devices are sometimes ignored because passengers say they’re uncomfortable, and passengers also say that when traveling short distances, they simply forget to put them on. If you forget to buckle up or choose not to wear a seat belt, and you’re injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, it may be more difficult to receive compensation. No seat belt accident injuries

Virginia’s Seat Belt Laws for Adults and Children

Almost every state in the country requires that motorists wear seat belts whenever they are operating or sitting inside a moving vehicle. Virginia has its own strict seat belt laws, which require the following: 

  • Drivers and passengers age 16 or older must wear a seat belt if they are sitting in the front seat of a moving vehicle.
  • Children under the age of 16 must wear a seat belt or be secured in a safety seat, irrespective of where they are sitting inside the vehicle.

There are some exceptions to these laws; however, most adults must buckle up when they occupy the front seat of a moving vehicle.

Contributory Negligence Laws in the Old Dominion

Virginia is one of very few states that adheres to a strict contributory negligence doctrine. Under most circumstances, whenever a motorist’s own misconduct contributes in any way to an accident or causes their car crash-related injuries, they cannot recover any damages from a personal injury lawsuit.

However, it’s important to remember that not wearing a seat belt does not constitute negligence.

The accident victim didn’t cause the crash because they chose not to wear a seat belt. However, the insurance company will want to prove that you contributed to your own injuries because you chose not to wear one.

Contributory Negligence and Recovering Damages

Defense attorneys will sometimes allege that an accident victim’s failure to wear a seat belt contributed to or caused their car crash-related injuries. Many studies, surveys, and academic analyses have shown that seat belt usage reduces the risk of sustaining serious and potentially life-threatening physical injuries.

However, state law explicitly prohibits these arguments in personal injury lawsuits. For example, Virginia Code § 46.2-1094 states that a violation of Virginia’s seat belt laws does not necessarily bar claimants from filing or pursuing a civil claim against an at-fault motorist.

Under most circumstances, a defense attorney cannot even admit an accident victim’s failure to wear a seat belt into evidence, unless the victim’s seat belt usage relates to another, more significant act of misconduct such as driving under the influence of alcohol or instigating a road rage incident. 

Building a Compelling Personal Injury Case

While Virginia law may not bar accident victims from recovering damages if they failed to use their seat belts, securing a fair and equitable settlement could still be challenging. Since insurance companies are fundamentally for-profit enterprises, they will often seize any opportunity to deny or devalue a claimant’s compensation.

How an Experienced Virginia Car Crash Attorney Can Help

  • Collecting and analyzing police reports
  • Gathering evidence from the crash site
  • Interviewing bystanders and potential eyewitnesses
  • Reviewing your medical records to assess the totality of your recoverable damages
  • Negotiating with the insurance company on your behalf, letting you focus on your physical recovery

Potential Damages After a Virginia Car Accident

  • Your past, present, and anticipated medical expenses
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Therapy
  • Lost income from work
  • Exhausted vacation days and paid time off (PTO)
  • Diminished earning potential
  • Emotional pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Wrongful death

Virginia does not currently cap the damages available to car accident victims. However, it does have a strict statute of limitations. If you wait too long to file a claim, a Virginia court could dismiss your case without further consideration, leaving you responsible for the costs of an accident that was not your fault.

Contact a Virginia Attorney Today

Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC has spent years advocating for the rights of Virginia automobile accident victims. Our firm believes that nobody should be forced to pay for another motorist’s mistake. Please send us a message online, or call us at 877-652-1553 to speak to a legal professional, and schedule your 100% free, no-obligation consultation as soon as possible.


James Knight Freeman
Fairfax and Northern Virginia DUI/DWI, Criminal & Traffic Defense Attorney